S. Shyam Sundar, Ph.D.

Retirement communities hoping to reach residents and prospective residents via Facebook may wish to educate them about social media privacy controls and avoid posting about trivial matters, suggests a new study.

S. Shyam Sundar, Ph.D., and fellow co-authors of a small study in press for the journal Telematics and Informatics interviewed 46 retirement community residents and discovered that although some residents enjoyed viewing photos and updates from family and friends, others worried about who would see what they posted. Those privacy concerns kept some residents off Facebook.

“The biggest concern is privacy, and it’s not about revealing too much; it’s that they assume that too many random people out there can get their hands on their information,” Sundar, a distinguished professor of communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at the Pennsylvania State University, said in a statement. “Control is really what privacy is all about. It’s about the degree to which you feel that you have control over how your information is shared or circulated.”

The average age of participants was 80.4 years (range, 65 to 95 years), and all participants had college degrees and said they used computers in their daily lives. Twenty said they had Facebook accounts, and 26 said they did not.

Some adults in the study cited the triviality of some posts as a reason to avoid the site, even if they had Facebook accounts.

“They believe that people reporting on the mundane and unremarkable things that they did — brushing their teeth or what they had for lunch — is not worth talking about,” Sundar said. “That’s an issue, especially for this generation.”

Facebook can serve as a communications bridge between the generations, however, so the researchers advise Facebook to increase the visibility of the site’s privacy tools.

So what can senior living communities do to improve their engagement with current and potential residents via the networking site?

“In general, the source matters, that is, the person or entity that is approaching the older adult via Facebook,” Sundar told McKnight’s Senior Living. “If an unknown company or institution approaches them through this social networking site, it will add to their privacy fears. But if it comes recommended through a peer or family member, then the site may be a good venue for reaching prospective members.”

A Facebook page can be an excellent way for senior living settings to boost the sense of community among residents via frequent posts, he added — “if Facebook is a familiar site and if the community has a well-defined group on it, with clearly advertised privacy and security boundaries.”

Senior living communities also can improve engagement on Facebook by providing users with opportunities to bond with other people they know and build bridges with people they don’t know, Sundar said.

“We have seen that uploading and checking out others’ photos, commenting on others’ posts and being able to customize their profile are things that make older adults enjoy their Facebook experience,” he said. “So, I would say, have more chatting and commenting features or items on the site. Make it easy for them to upload pictures, search for new friends and join new groups.”